We have a slew of measurements, such as trade figures, employment data, retail sales, credit extension and consumer prices that come out with monthly or quarterly regularity. Then there are government spending and revenue plans that are updated twice a year.
In one, the supersensitive case of crime data, we only get to see what is happening once a year. We will know that crime is indeed normalising when these data are supplied as regularly as, say, the latest jobs figures.
But there is one set of data, the rate of migration – a key management tool – for which we have to wait from census to census. The census data out this week provide an opportunity to take stock of this key metric for the first time in a decade.
Rapid urbanisation brings with it instability as new communities set up, often in informal conditions with associated social problems, inadequate services and high rates of crime. An ineffective government does not help, of course, but corruption no doubt thrives in conditions of instability.
When pressed on their failure to supply adequate services in the Rustenburg area, an issue highlighted by the recent tragic events at Marikana, the authorities have blamed high rates of urbanisation, said to be the fastest in Africa.
We are yet to see the municipal data from Census 2011, but what has been released so far shows that in Gauteng and the Western Cape, the two economic meccas for the rest of South Africa, populations have increased by a respective 60% and 47% since 1996. This is a 5.2-million increase from a combined figure of 13.4-million to 18.6-million.
Half of all Gautengers were not born in the province and 7.4% of them are not South African citizens.
On the census as a whole, most numbers seem to be moving in the right direction, although, for many, not fast enough. Black household income is up by 169% to R60 000 a year since 2001 and white household income is up by 88% to R365 000.
Unemployment was measured at 29%, but the youth takes most of the burden. Youths aged between 20 and 24 have unemployment rates of 50%, whereas the rate is 21% for those between 40 and 44, falling to 13% for those between 60 and 64.
Measures of ownership of cellphones, computers, fridges and televisions are all good. Cellphone ownership has jumped from 32% in 2001 to 89% last year and television ownership has gone from 52% to 74%.
The percentage of households using electricity to cook has grown from 52% in 2001 to 74% last year.
Households living in formal housing have jumped from 68% in 2001 to 77.6% last year and household size has decreased from 3.8 to 3.4 people.
But the data are not all good.
The number of people older than 18 with no education or below grade seven has fallen from 31% in 2001 to 19% last year, but at 19% it is still shockingly high. Some 8.6% of adults – 4.4-million people – have no education at all.
On a racial basis, 2.5-million black South Africans aged 20 or older had no schooling compared to just 15 000 whites. About 8.3% of blacks had education higher than grade 12 compared with 36% of whites.
This means that of 23-million blacks aged 20 or older, only 1.9-million have an education higher than grade 12. The equivalent figures for whites is 1.2-million of a possible 3.4-million.
Mortality data show that the highest number of deaths is of people aged between 35 and 39.
There is a slightly different picture for men and women. The largest number of deaths by age category is 30 to 34 for women, a total of 17954 for the year before Census 2011. For men the largest death category is between 35 and 39, a total of 20 526 for the same period.